The History of Skiing at Longmire and Paradise
Mt. Rainier National Park
A summary from Linda Helleson's The History of
Skiing in Mount Rainier National Park
edited by Ed Strauss
"Of all the snow-capped peaks which parallel
the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the mightiest and the snowiest. Here
on this massive 14,400 foot volcano, the annual snowfall averages more
than 600 inches. It is not unusual to have a snow depth of 15 to 20 feet
at the 5,000 foot elevation, or a quarter of that 2,500 feet lower. Thus,
one should not wonder that Mount Rainier attracted some of the first skiers
in the Northwest. After all, snow is obviously one of the main attractions.
With such heavy snowfalls, one is likely to find good skiing conditions
in December, April, or in June. The glaciated valleys, cirques, and mountain
ridges of Rainier and the neighboring Tatoosh Range offer varied skiing
terrain, all within a very short distance of the other. Skiing among the
snow mantled giants of the lowland forest is in overwhelming contrast to
skiing the corniced open slopes near timberline.
Yes, the weather can be fierce and
unpredictable. As much as 37 inches of new snow has been recorded in 24
hours. Daily snowfalls of 15 to 20 inches are not uncommon. Some snow is
light and dry; but as often as not it is heavy and wet. High winds, white
outs or unseasonable rains have forced many disappointed skiers to cancel
well planned ski excursions.
But when the winds cease and the snow
is feather light; or, when the clouds clear away and THE MOUNTAIN is visible,
well there are the conditions, the memory of and the hope for, which
have attracted three generations of skiers to Mount Rainier."
"Located only some 70 miles from Tacoma
and 100 mile from Seattle, the population centers of the region, Rainier
had been a favorite summertime recreation area even before the National
Park was established in 1899. These early generations of summer hikers
and casual visitors began to imagine how beautiful this area would be in
the winter under a blanket of snow.
The Tacoma Mountaineers were probably
the first and most influential group to realize the potential for winter
sports development on Mount Rainier. They are thought to have skied in
Paradise Valley in 1915 or 1916. In 1919 the Northwestern Ski Club
held it's 3rd annual tournament at Paradise Valley on June 29. The
1923 tournament attracted entrants from all over the country and Canada,
Nels Nelson, "amateur ski champion of the world" made a record jump of
240 feet! During this first decade, much of the skiing was necessarily
limited to the early summer months because of the lack of public overnight
accommodations within the Park and because of the impassability of the
road into the higher parks.
In 1923 the road was plowed in the
winter to Longmire. About 10,000 people visited the Park that Winter. Soon
ski rental, snow shoe and toboggan rental, dog sled rides, and a top class
toboggan slide were available at Longmire."
"The first significant ski tournament
was the Silver Skis race held in April, 1934. This was a race for experienced
skiers. The race course ran 3.16 miles from Camp Muir (10,000') to Edith
Creek Basin (5,200'). The first winner, Don Frazer skied the course in
10 minutes 49.6 seconds. The best time ever was set by Peter Radacher at
4 minutes 51.6 seconds in 1939! All this over unknown and varied terrain.
Puget Sound civic clubs succeeded in attracting
and hosting the 1935 U. S. Olympic trials and National Championship in
slalom and downhill ski events at Paradise. The downhill course started
above Paradise at Sugar Loaf (8,500'), dropped to Panorama Point and into
Edith Creek Basin (5,200'). This course had a 35% drop. Hans Schroll, a
skilled German skier who delighted the crowds (by yodeling), won the men's
downhill race 1.7 minutes ahead of the second place finisher! Ellis-Ayr
Smith from Tacoma won the women's race. The quarter mile slalom course
with a vertical drop of 600 feet was set up on the "back side" (east side)
of Alta Vista. Schroll and Ethlynne Smith won those races. The nation was
caught up in the excitement of the ski races in Paradise Valley. Sportscasters
from the Columbia Broadcasting Company sent the excitement to distant homes.
Three wire services documented the details for the newspapers. Paramount
newsreels brought the action to life again and again in neighborhood theaters."
" In 1930 the road was kept open to Canyon Rim.
This shortened the distance to Paradise to 2.5 miles. Two years later that
distance was cut in half when the road was kept open to Narada Falls. In
the 30's the Paradise Inn remained open in the winter. "During the 1935-36
season the Park Company was advertising that it could accommodate 900 persons
in Paradise Valley. The first winter that the road was open to the public
all the way to Paradise was 1936-37. Private cars were still parked at
Narada Falls. But a Company stage operated shuttle bus service beyond that
point. Imaginative skiers took advantage of this bus service and skied
the mile and a half downhill run from Paradise to Narada several times
" The skiers wanted a mechanical lift and that
is what was installed for the 1937-38 season. A de-mountable type ski lift,
similar to those installed that year at Mount Baker and Snoqualmie, was
constructed by mechanical wizard Jim Barker. Powered by a V8 Ford motor,
the first tow had a capacity of 250 skiers an hour. The run went from the
saddle of Alta Vista to the old guide house. Initially the ride cost 25
cents or $1.00 all day. The next year rides were 10 cents a run. Approximately
100,000 skiers were visiting Paradise annually by 1939."
" Because skiing had a particular appeal to
the young people, the Park Service thought a special effort should be made
to accommodate them. Funds were secured and the Ski Dorm was built by the
Park Service and leased to the Park Company to house at least 80 people
in four rooms in addition to provide a lobby and workroom facilities. Rates
were not to exceed 50 cents a night."
The 40's brought war which shadowed development
of ski areas. "Other priority programs, such as national defense, even
extended into isolated mountain valleys. During the midwinter months of
1941, two U. S. Army ski patrol detachments, the 15th Infantry and the
41st Division, engaged daily in winter wartime training. Park Rangers assisted
in the training of these 25 men who were quartered at Longmire but skied
at Paradise 5 times a week. The following winter 500 members of the 87th
Mountain Infantry Regiment were stationed at Paradise. When public services
were suspended, a contract to house the men in the Paradise Lodge and Tatoosh
Club were negotiated. These arrangements did not interfere with winter
recreation. In fact the infantry men helped sponsor ski events, furnished
doctors and first aid, set courses and operated radios for weekend contests."
"Public demand was such that the road
to Paradise was reopened in the winter of 1954-55 for the first time since
1948-49." The ski lifts went up again and Paradise was considered a nice
little ski area. It couldn't keep up with the development of chair lifts
at other Cascade ski resorts. The Park Service would not approve any permanent
structures that are required for chair lifts or gondolas.
The ski lifts closed for good at Paradise
when no company bid on the contract for the concession. Now all winter
travel in the Paradise area in the winter is self propelled. Skiers, snow
shoers, and snow boarders have found Paradise to be the premiere winter
recreation site in Washington State. It has the highest (5,400') destination
that is all paved and plowed on a daily basis. It has the most undeveloped
and uncrowded terrain which contains both rolling hills and steeper ridges
The complete text of The History of Skiing in Mount
Rainier National Park by Linda Helleson is available at the Longmire
library, Mt. Rainier Nat'l Park.